NCF Nation: Andrew Brewer
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.
RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.
RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.
WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.
WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.
TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.
C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.
G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.
G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.
OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.
DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.
DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.
DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.
DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.
LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.
LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.
LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.
DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.
DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.
DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.
DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.
K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.
Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.
Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.
WHO TO WATCH: Mike Kafka. Few Big Ten players proved more valuable to their teams this fall than Kafka, who ended the season playing his best football. He complemented an efficient short passing attack with more downfield shots to receivers Andrew Brewer and Zeke Markshausen. Kafka faces an Auburn defense that defends the pass well (28th nationally) but has struggled with depth problems for most of the fall. You figure Auburn's high-powered offense will hit on some big plays against the Wildcats, so Kafka will be called upon to answer. If he plays like he did Nov. 21 against Wisconsin, Northwestern should be in good shape.
WHAT TO WATCH: The chess match between Mike Hankwitz and Gus Mulzahn. Hankwitz, the Northwestern defensive coordinator, has seen it all in two plus decades running defenses. But Mulzahn's innovative offense, which employs a huge playbook and a ton of motion before the snap, will test Hankwitz's scheming skills. Northwestern's defense got healthier and improved its tackling as the season went on, but the Wildcats have been gashed for big plays at times. Hankwitz had an excellent game plan against Missouri's high-powered offense last year in the Valero Alamo Bowl, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with after nearly a month to prepare for Malzahn and Auburn.
WHY WATCH: Northwestern finished the season as one of the nation's hottest teams, going 3-0 in November with two wins against ranked opponents (Iowa and Wisconsin). After a lengthy layoff, the Wildcats play on New Year's Day for the first time in 13 years and search for their first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. It's also the Big Ten's first crack at the SEC, regarded as the nation's premier conference in large part because of its BCS title game wins against Ohio State. Northwestern still struggles to shake its miserable pre-1995 history, and a win against Auburn would go a long way toward erasing the program's poor past.
PREDICTION: The Wildcats are the hotter team, as Auburn dropped five of its final seven contests, but the Tigers are feeling good about themselves after taking No. 1 Alabama to the wire in the Iron Bowl. Both teams are excited to be here, and both boast strong offenses. Auburn takes an early lead behind big plays from quarterback Chris Todd and running back Ben Tate, but Northwestern once again rallies, as it has all season. The Wildcats win this one, 31-28.
- Ohio State's defense: I could probably give helmet stickers to five Buckeyes defenders, but I need to spread the wealth a bit. Ohio State's defense forced five turnovers, converting one for a touchdown, in its 21-10 victory against Michigan. Individual standouts included safeties Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines, cornerback Devon Torrence, defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebackers Brian Rolle, Ross Homan and John Simon.
- Penn State QB Daryll Clark: After two uncharacteristic performances, Clark stepped up big in Penn State's spanking of Michigan State. The senior completed 19 of 27 passes for 310 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions as he spread the ball to eight different players.
- Purdue QB Joey Elliott: If Clark doesn't win first-team All-Big Ten quarterback, it should go to Elliott. He made the most of his senior season and finished with a big win against Indiana, completing 21 of 29 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
- Northwestern QB Mike Kafka and WR Andrew Brewer: Three years ago, they competed for the starting quarterback job and lost out to C.J. Bacher. On Saturday against Wisconsin, they hooked up six times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Kafka finished 26-of-41 for 325 yards and no interceptions.
- Iowa's defense: Another team effort from the Hawkeyes, who shut out Minnesota for the second straight year. All four starting defensive linemen recorded tackles for loss, and linebackers Pat Angerer and Troy Johnson stepped up in a big way as Iowa inched closer to a BCS at large berth.
Penn State 31, Indiana 20: Penn State gave Indiana a great opportunity to take control of this game with four first-half turnovers. When the Hoosiers couldn't capitalize, the Lions didn't give them a second chance. Penn State scored 24 unanswered points as running back Evan Royster got going and the defense held IU quarterback Ben Chappell in check for most of the second half. Daryll Clark didn't have a great game by any means, but he avoided mistakes in the second half and moved Penn State closer to the 10-win plateau. Linebacker Navorro Bowman made the play of the day when he intercepted a Chappell pass and raced 73 yards to the end zone. It has been a season of near misses for Indiana, which can't generate a consistent rushing attack.
Wisconsin 45, Michigan 24: Scott Tolzien became the latest quarterback to completely pick apart Michigan's secondary, as Wisconsin came in with an excellent offensive game plan today. Tolzien fired four touchdown passes as wide receiver Nick Toon and Isaac Anderson and tight end Garrett Graham all had big games. Badgers running back John Clay once again went over the 100-yard rushing mark (151, to be exact) as Wisconsin eclipsed its victories total from last season. Michigan backslid in the second half for the third straight week, as the run game never truly got going. Tate Forcier had arguably his best game at quarterback for the Wolverines, but he can only do so much. Greg Robinson's defense is a disaster, and Michigan's bowl hopes could be finished after a 4-0 start.
Michigan State 40, Purdue 37: The Spartans received big plays in all three phases during a wild second half as they held off Purdue to get bowl eligible. Special teams was huge down the stretch as Michigan State blocked a long field goal attempt, received another huge kickoff return from Keshawn Martin and drilled the game-winning field goal with 1:51 left. Quarterback Kirk Cousins didn't have his typical accuracy, but he hit on several huge pass plays, three for touchdowns. Purdue's desperate run for a bowl game ends despite another huge performance from quarterback Joey Elliott, an All-Big Ten candidate. Wideout Keith Smith and running back Ralph Bolden came up big, but the Boilers defense couldn't stop the big play.
Northwestern 21, Illinois 16: Illinois made this one interesting with a furious fourth-quarter rally behind backup quarterback Jacob Charest, who struggled for the first 50 minutes or so. After a sloppy first half, Northwestern took control with a 7-play, 99-yard scoring drive in the third quarter. Mike Kafka finally hit on a big pass play to Andrew Brewer (52 yards), and the run game started to show up with freshman Arby Fields. Kafka passed for 300 yards and Zeke Markshausen continued his surprise season at wide receiver. The game wasn't without controversy, as replay officials didn't overturn a fourth-down interception that sealed the win for Northwestern, which secures back-to-back bowl berths for the second time in team history. Illinois inexplicably will miss a bowl for the second straight season.
Minnesota 16, South Dakota State 13: The Golden Gophers are bowl eligible, but they didn't make it easy on themselves. Minnesota rode great defense to hold off South Dakota State and notch victory No. 6. Junior quarterback Adam Weber continued to struggle, completing 10 of 21 passes with a pick-six in the second quarter as the Minnesota offense piled up only 231 yards. But the Gophers defense forced four turnovers, including a fumble recovered for a touchdown by D.L. Wilhite. A huge sigh of relief for Tim Brewster, who now tries to win his first trophy game next week at Iowa.
Penn State held off Indiana's upset bid, 31-20.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After several installments of power rankings during the offseason (when no games were actually being played), it's time to assess the league with a bit of concrete evidence.
First, a quick power rankings primer. These rankings are meant to be fluid. If a team loses or struggles in a game it should win, it pays the price. If a team looks impressive in victory or pulls an upset, it usually moves up. Try not to throw a tantrum if your team isn't where you think it should be. There are opportunities every week to move up. And move down.
Week 1 wasn't great for the Big Ten, as two ranked teams (Ohio State, Iowa) struggled and a potential sleeper team (Illinois) simply fell asleep. But there was good news in Ann Arbor, as Michigan looks to be respectable again. The top three look very solid to me. After that, it's a bit murky.
1. Penn State (1-0) -- The Nittany Lions handled their business with no drama against Akron, surging to a 31-0 halftime lead. Daryll Clark showed why he's the Big Ten's best quarterback, and for now, Penn State is the league's top team. Joe Paterno wants to see better play from his offensive line, but the wide receivers looked impressive.
2. Ohio State (1-0) -- Sure, Navy is a tricky team with a tricky offense. Tell me something I don't know. Bottom line: Ohio State was bigger and more talented at pretty much every position. The Buckeyes had a chance to put away the game early in the fourth quarter, but head coach Jim Tressel made a poor decision and his players had several breakdowns. It will take a much better performance across the board to simply keep pace with USC.
3. Michigan State (1-0) -- The Spartans hold a firm grip on the No. 3 spot after a stress-free win against Montana State. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol continue to pace one another in a good way, and linebacker Greg Jones picked up where he left off in 2008. Michigan State's line play still concerns me a bit, but I like the team's depth at most key positions.
4. Northwestern (1-0) -- Iowa's near disaster allows Northwestern to move up a spot. Towson didn't present much of a challenge for the Wildcats, who could have easily put up 60 points in Saturday's game. They might not get a true test until Week 3 or 4, but they had to be pleased with quarterback Mike Kafka and wide receiver Andrew Brewer in the opener.
5. Iowa (1-0) -- Hawkeye fans are already spreading the Northern Iowa gospel after their team was a 41-yard field goal away from a crushing defeat on Saturday. True, the Panthers are an excellent FCS program, but Iowa should feel free to take care of business and perform like a ranked team. It didn't happen, and the Hawkeyes' run game seems a bit shaky with Jewel Hampton lost for the season. There will be chances to move up, and Iowa needs to look like the team that ended last season on a great run.
6. Michigan (1-0) -- No team in the Big Ten had a more impressive debut, especially considering the circumstances. Rich Rodriguez's team showed unity, toughness and, most important, better execution on both sides of the ball as it totally dismantled Western Michigan. Rodriguez finally has the right quarterbacks in place to run his offense (Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson), and the defense looked extremely well coached and energized as it ruined Tim Hiller's day. A chance to make a national statement and move up the rankings arrives Saturday against Notre Dame (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
7. Wisconsin (1-0) -- Finishing games will continue to be a theme in Madison after Wisconsin allowed two late touchdowns to Northern Illinois. But for the most part, the Badgers had a nice debut as Scott Tolzien performed well at quarterback and Isaac Anderson distinguished himself as a playmaker at wide receiver. Wisconsin will need a more complete performance against Fresno State to move up the rankings.
8. Minnesota (1-0) -- A come-from-behind road win certainly means something, but Minnesota probably shouldn't have been in such a desperate position against Syracuse. The Gophers easily jumped ahead 14-3 but endured an offensive lull similar to the ones that cropped up late last season. Linebacker Lee Campbell led an admirable defensive performance. Air Force provides a good test this week as Minnesota opens TCF Bank Stadium.
9. Purdue (1-0) -- Boilers fans have the right to be a bit ticked off with this placement, but I need to see a little more from Danny Hope's team before buying in. If Purdue heads to Eugene and pulls the upset -- or merely keeps pace with Oregon for the second straight year -- I'll be happy to move the Boilers up the rankings. Ralph Bolden's performance was extremely impressive, though the defense needs to be better against Jeremiah Masoli and the wounded Ducks.
10. Illinois (0-1) -- Granted, Illinois played a tougher opponent (Missouri) than its Big Ten brethren in Week 1, but a complete collapse in St. Louis is simply unacceptable. The Illini were the deeper and more experienced team, but they looked flustered and lifeless at times, delivering the type of performance that kept them out of a bowl game last year. A 1-4 start isn't out of the question for Illinois, which needs to bounce back strong to avoid a trip to the basement.
11. Indiana (1-0) -- A win's a win, but there won't be many more in Bloomington if Indiana doesn't pick up its play on both sides of the ball. The pistol formation was supposed to spark the rushing attack, but the Hoosiers gained just 73 yards on the ground against Eastern Kentucky, an FCS team. Indiana had three turnovers and endured several breakdowns in the secondary. Western Michigan and Hiller provide a bigger test this week, and Indiana needs to meet it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EVANSTON, Ill. -- It's no secret around these parts that Northwestern's offensive production largely depends on quarterback Mike Kafka's ability to evolve as a passer.
Kafka might not be a household name in the Big Ten, but he holds the league's single-game record for quarterback rushing with 217 yards against Minnesota last year. The senior is less accomplished as a passer, but he spent the summer focusing on the passing game.
|Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images|
|Mike Kafka, above, spent time this summer working with former Northwestern QB Brett Basanez.|
Part of Kafka's summer regimen involved working with former Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez, the 2005 Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Year. Basanez, who ranks third on the Big Ten's career passing yards list (10,580), returned to the area after signing with the Chicago Bears as a reserve quarterback.
Kafka gathered several of Northwestern's receivers and worked with Basanez twice a week for six weeks. Wildcats backup quarterback Dan Persa and Kafka's brother, Jason, who will play football at San Jose State this fall, also participated.
"We were working out with an NFL quarterback," Kafka said. "You can't beat that."
Basanez critiqued Kafka's passing mechanics and footwork, but his most valuable advice had to do with the mental aspect of playing the position.
"We talked a lot about being able to manage the game and control and lead," Kafka said. "That was one of the biggest things -- leadership. A lot of times, the quarterback doesn't have to be the best player on the field, as long as you lead your team down the field."
Since installing the spread offense in 2000, Northwestern has struggled to overcome the loss of a starting quarterback. The Wildcats stumbled to 3-9 in 2002, after losing Zak Kustok, and went 4-8 in 2006, after losing Basanez.
C.J. Bacher held the top job the past two-and-a-half seasons, though Kafka isn't a stranger to the spotlight. He started four games as a freshman and two last fall after Bacher hurt his hamstring.
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald said Kafka is "throwing the ball as well as he ever has" and gained confidence by being the clear-cut starter in camp.
"You can just tell that he's taken the time to improve, even on the little things," said wide receiver Andrew Brewer, a former quarterback who competed with Kafka in 2006. "It's definitely helped his mechanics and helped his arm speed and strength."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Prognostication guru Phil Steele released his preseason All-Big Ten teams Tuesday, and fans of Penn State and Ohio State undoubtedly will be pleased.
Although both teams lost sizable and decorated senior classes, Penn State put six players on Steele's first team, while Ohio State has four. The big surprise is that Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, widely considered the league's best signal-caller, slipped to the third team behind Illinois' Juice Williams and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.
Steele also released his preseason All-America teams, and here's the breakdown for the Big Ten:
First team -- Illinois WR Arrelious Benn, Michigan P Zoltan Mesko
Third team -- Michigan DE Brandon Graham, Penn State DT Jared Odrick, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Ohio State PR Ray Small
Fourth team -- Ohio State LG Justin Boren, Northwestern DE Corey Wootton, Illinois LB Martez Wilson, Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Getting back to the Big Ten list, which was generally pretty solid but had some interesting notes and surprises:
- There are clearly two elite wide receivers in the Big Ten in Benn and Decker. After that, it's a crapshoot. Purdue's Keith Smith was the third wideout named to Steele's first team. Unproven players like Minnesota's Hayo Carpenter (second team), Ohio State's DeVier Posey (third team) and Northwestern's Andrew Brewer (fourth team) also earned recognition.
- I was a little surprised to see Purdue's Jaycen Taylor listed as a second-team running back ahead of Iowa's Jewel Hampton. Taylor comes off an ACL injury and never beat out Kory Sheets for the starting job when he was healthy. Hampton filled in very well behind Shonn Greene last year.
- Michigan State running back Edwin Baker was the only incoming freshman to make Steele's list as a fourth-teamer.
- Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent, who was suspended for spring ball after receiving a DUI in February, is listed on the first team next to Odrick. Brent is a talented player, but Purdue's Mike Neal might have been the safer pick here.
- The offensive line selections were interesting. Experience beat out potential as Wisconsin's John Moffitt earned the second-team nod over Ohio State's Mike Brewster. I was very surprised not to see Northwestern linemen Al Netter or Ben Burkett on the list. Indiana had two linemen selected (Cody Faulkner and Rodger Saffold) despite really struggling in that area a year ago, and Iowa surprisingly only had tackles Bryan Bulaga (first team) and Kyle Calloway (second team) on the rundown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Fifteen spring practices still don't mask all the warts a team has, and every head coach has a position group that keeps him awake at night. After looking at where each Big Ten team got help this spring, here's a look at the positions that still look a little shaky around the league.
Illinois' offensive line -- The Illini boast arguably more offensive firepower than any Big Ten team, but they'll struggle without improvement up front. There's youth throughout the front five, and while players like Jeff Allen boast loads of potential, there are a few unknowns heading into the fall. The line allowed five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the spring game.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Kellen Lewis' dismissal from the program after spring practice creates a major void at receiver. Lewis was pegged to be Ben Chappell's top target, and with Ray Fisher moving from wideout to cornerback, the Hoosiers need big things from young players like Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- This position will be a question mark for the Hawkeyes right up until the season opener, and most likely beyond. Iowa must find a way to replace mainstays Mitch King and Matt Kroul, and it lacks much experience besides Karl Klug. The team needs continued development from guys like Mike Daniels and Cody Hundertmark.
Michigan's defensive line -- Brandon Graham should be one of the nation's top pass-rushers this fall, but he needs some help up front. Michigan likes what it has in young linemen like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and incoming freshman Craig Roh. Those players will need to grow up fast so the defense can generate consistent pressure.
Michigan State's running backs -- Few players meant more to an offense than Javon Ringer did to Michigan State last fall, and the search for a replacement remains a bit murky. Aside from a brief surge by Ashton Leggett, the running back room remains very crowded as Caulton Ray entered the mix this spring. Two heralded freshmen arrive during the summer in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.
Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers have the bodies up front, but they've still got a long way to go in picking up the new offensive system/philosophy. It's a fairly dramatic change for returning starters like Dom Alford and Ned Tavale, so growing pains are expected. But a talented Gophers team can't take another step forward if its offensive line doesn't come together.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters are gone at receiver, and no one really wowed during spring practice. Northwestern should get better here as Jeremy Ebert returns from hip surgery, but it's time for experienced players like Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to step up as primary targets for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Michigan transfer Justin Boren undoubtedly had a positive effect on the offensive line this spring, but questions remain about a group that underachieved for most of 2008. Can Mike Adams complement his physical gifts with a toughness needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? How will Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning adjust to new positions when the games begin? Stay tuned.
Penn State's secondary -- Head coach Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern for this group, which lost all four starters from 2008. Breakdowns in the secondary doomed Penn State in its only two losses last fall. Safety Drew Astorino should be ready for big things, but cornerback A.J. Wallace must find a way to stay healthy and become a legit shutdown guy on the outside.
Purdue's quarterbacks -- Joey Elliott boasts the knowledge to be an effective Big Ten starter, but does he have the skills to get it done? He has spent a lot of time on the sideline during his college career, and Purdue would benefit from having another viable option at quarterback. Justin Siller's dismissal really stings, and the development of backup Caleb TerBush looms large this summer.
Wisconsin's linebackers -- The Badgers lose a lot of production in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, and they don't have much proven depth at linebacker. They can ill afford an injury to Jaevery McFadden or Culmer St. Jean, and it's imperative to develop more linebackers during preseason camp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.
Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.
Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.
Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.
Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.
Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.
Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.
Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A light news day around the league. More answers will come later today.
- The struggles by both the Pac-10 and the Big Ten could put the Rose Bowl in a tight spot, Loren Tate writes in The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette.
- Despite his team's bland performance against Louisiana-Lafayette, Illinois coach Ron Zook is staying positive, Herb Gould writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. Safety Donsay Hardeman should be in the mix next week after WR Jeff Cumberland and DT Josh Brent returned from injuries against the Ragin' Cajuns.
- Ball State is getting pumped for Saturday's matchup at Indiana, Doug Zaleski writes in The (Muncie) Star Press.
- A torn hamstring sidetracked Andy Brodell last fall, but the Iowa wideout/return man is making plays again, Andy Hamilton writes the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Can you spot Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz in this 1980 picture?
- Michigan has a multitude of problems, but quarterback may not longer be one of them as Steven Threet emerges as the starter, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. Rich Rodriguez continues to take a realistic approach to the season and not side with the Chicken Little crowd, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Also, tight end Carson Butler won't be suspended despite being ejected from the Notre Dame game.
- Who's the Big Ten MVP at this point? Michigan State RB Javon Ringer, hands down, as Steve Grinczel details. The Spartans will face an improved Notre Dame offensive line this week, Neil Hayes writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Sorry I missed this from the other day, but Minnesota star wideout Eric Decker, who also could play pro baseball, says he'll be back with the Gophers in 2009, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher has limited mistakes so far. Now his coach wants him to stretch the field in the passing game, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Daily Herald. Pat Fitzgerald also weighs in on Northwestern's surprising poll placement and Andrew Brewer's nicks and bruises, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Chris "Beanie" Wells might have made a veteran Ohio State offensive line look better than it actually is, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. May and fellow Dispatch beat writer Ken Gordon sift through Ohio State's disastrous loss to USC.
- Penn State center A.Q. Shipley plays through pain, but the team loses another defensive lineman in converted O-lineman Mike Lucian, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times. Has unheralded Evan Royster surpassed LeSean McCoy as the best back in Pennsylvania? The Patriot-News' Bob Flounders takes a look.
- It sounds a bit odd at Purdue, but offense is the area that needs an upgrade going forward, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema continues to bite his tongue about the blown fumble call against his team at Fresno State, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. Bielema was much more chatty about Michigan, a team he's wary of despite its 1-2 start.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Despite losing seven of the league's top 10 receivers from last season, this group should once again be solid in 2008. Teams like Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern return groups of receivers that have played together for a season or longer. Minnesota has a budding star in Eric Decker, while Wisconsin lacks a proven wide receiver but boasts arguably the nation's best tight end in Travis Beckum. Purdue is restocking at wide receiver but has history on its side, and Iowa welcomes back several key contributors from injuries.
As with the running backs, these rankings are broken down into two sections:
|AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack|
|Wisconsin's Travis Beckum had 75 receptions for 982 yards last season.|
1. Travis Beckum, Sr., TE, Wisconsin -- It's rare that a tight end tops this list, but Beckum transcends his often overlooked position. The All-America candidate had 75 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns last season. If Beckum returns at top form following offseason shoulder surgery, he'll continue to flummox defenses with his size and speed.
2. Brian Robiskie, Sr., WR, Ohio State -- He averaged 17 yards a catch and had the third most touchdown catches (11) in the league last season. Now imagine what Robiskie will do without a torn meniscus in his knee that required offseason surgery. A deep threat on a squad with several of them, Robiskie is on the brink of a big season.
3. Arrelious Benn, So., WR, Illinois -- Fully healthy after shoulder surgery, Benn could easily become this season's Devin Thomas and rise to the top of the list. Illinois will get the ball in his hands as much as possible, whether it's in a ramped up passing attack, out of the backfield or on returns. A good route-runner with breakaway speed, Benn might be the league's most dynamic player.
4. Eric Decker, Jr., WR, Minnesota -- After putting up big numbers for a bad team last season, Decker should get more praise from fans and more attention from defenses this fall. A tremendous athlete who also plays baseball for the Golden Gophers, Decker gives quarterback Adam Weber a proven target who can get to the end zone (nine touchdowns in 2007).
5. Deon Butler, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Butler quietly has become one of the league's most reliable receivers. He needs just 36 receptions to become Penn State's all-time career receptions leader and likely will claim several other school records. As the Nittany Lions transition to more of a spread offense this fall, Butler should excel.
6. Eric Peterman, Sr., WR, Northwestern -- Just when defenses label Peterman as a standard possession wide receiver, he'll gash them for a big gain. He tied for seventh in the league in receptions last season and will once again be C.J. Bacher's top target in the passing game, particularly on third down.
7. Greg Orton, Sr., WR, Purdue -- After playing behind three-time Big Ten receptions leader Dorien Bryant, Orton takes center stage as a senior. He must stabilize a new-look Boilermakers receiving corps and provide senior quarterback Curtis Painter a reliable first option. Orton has 125 receptions the last two seasons.
8. Andy Brodell, Sr., WR, Iowa --Remember the 2006 Alamo Bowl? Brodell torched Texas for a bowl-record 159 receiving yards, including a 63-yard touchdown. A broken leg cut short his 2007 season, but he's back and ready to restore his place among the Big Ten's top receivers.
9. Brian Hartline, Jr., WR, Ohio State -- Don't forget about Ohio State's other Brian, who collected 52 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns last fall. As Robiskie stretches the field, Hartline provides an excellent complement who goes over the middle and absorbs contact. He turned in an excellent spring as Robiskie recovered from injury.
10. Derrick Williams, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Most thought Williams would be higher on this list when he arrived in Happy Valley, but he hasn't matched the hype -- yet. His speed and athleticism remain top notch, and he should do well in a spread offense. A big-play threat who can do damage in the return game, Williams could finish his career with a flourish.
1. Ohio State -- Finding a third option remains on Ohio State's to-do list, but few teams boast a better passing tandem than the Brians. After a season to jell with quarterback Todd Boeckman, Robiskie and Hartline will punish defenses worrying about Heisman Trophy candidate Beanie Wells.
2. Penn State -- In terms of continuity at wide receiver, Penn State ranks at the top of the list. But the long-tenured group of Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood hasn't always met expectations. As seniors, they should shine despite having to work with a new starting quarterback.
3. Illinois -- The league knows all about Benn, who will do even more damage at 100 percent this fall. His supporting cast includes Jeff Cumberland, a 6-5, 247-pound former tight end who can outjump defenders, as well as Chris James, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Illini will accentuate the passing game more this fall, and this group should step up.
4. Northwestern -- This could be the Wildcats' best group of wideouts sinc
e they installed in the spread offense in 2000. Peterman is good for 6-10 receptions per game. Ross Lane provides Bacher with a red-zone threat, and Andrew Brewer, considered the team's top wideout before suffering a fractured humerus in training camp, rejoins the group.
5. Iowa -- Embattled quarterback Jake Christensen is thrilled to see what's coming back this fall. Brodell returns from a broken leg and gives Iowa a viable deep threat. Promising tight end Tony Moeaki is also back in the fold following an injury. Sophomore Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the team's top receiver last season, provides depth along with Trey Stross.
6. Wisconsin -- Beckum and understudy Garrett Graham are the only reasons why the Badgers are this high. For them to stay there, several wide receivers must emerge from an unproven group. Kyle Jefferson displayed promise as a freshman and David Gilreath showcased his speed as a returner, but there are more questions than answers here.
7. Purdue -- It's impossible to replace Bryant's production or the mismatch problems Dustin Keller created, but Orton gives Purdue a strong first option with good size. More important, the Boilermakers have a track record of success at wide receiver and a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) who can help unproven players. Junior-college transfer Aaron Valentin bolsters a group that also includes Desmond Tardy.
8. Minnesota -- I'm tempted to put the Gophers higher because of Decker, but there's not much behind him. Ernie Wheelwright's departure leaves a hole, which could be filled by dynamic freshman Brandon Green, sophomore Ralph Spry or several others. If Minnesota finds a solid second option for Weber, it will climb several spots.
9. Michigan -- Before you flood my inbox, allow an explanation. The Wolverines have no proven quarterbacks, only one semi-proven wide receiver (Greg Mathews) and a dramatically different offense to learn. A drop-off is likely, but not certain. Freshman Darryl Stonum bolsters the new-look corps, and players like Junior Hemingway and Toney Clemons could shine after waiting their turn for playing time.
10. Indiana -- There's no James Hardy on the roster, but juniors Ray Fisher and Andrew Means should stabilize a passing game led by quarterback Kellen Lewis. Tight end Max Dedmond provides another option in the new no-huddle offense, though another target or two needs to emerge.
11. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer told me to expect big things from this group, but I'm not convinced. Thomas and underrated tight end Kellen Davis will be missed, and Ringer had more receptions last season than any of the returnees. Deon Curry, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Blair White have the chance to step up -- and move up the list.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|C.J. Bacher threw for 3,656 yards a year ago, but he isn't afraid to run with the ball.|
It was a weird 2007 for Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher. He led the Big Ten and set a school record with 3,656 passing yards. He had an insane two weeks during which he combined for 990 passing yards and nine touchdowns in wins against Michigan State and Minnesota.
But the gaudy numbers were a bit hollow as Bacher ranked seventh in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and tied with Minnesota's Adam Weber for the league lead in interceptions. He finished with as many touchdowns (19) as picks, a fitting stat for a Wildcats team that ended up 6-6 and missed a bowl game.
Bacher heads into his senior season hoping to lead a talented Northwestern offense back to the postseason. The skill positions are well-stocked, but he's dealing with his third offensive coordinator (Mick McCall) in four seasons and a rebuilding line. I caught up with Bacher on Thursday afternoon.
What has been your mental preparation heading into your senior season?
C.J. Bacher: We have a new offense now, so things have changed a little bit. I'm trying to get really comfortable with the offense and make sure my teammates are getting comfortable. That's the biggest focus right now, working to get better with the intricacies of the offense.
How has the offense changed?
CB: It's a lot like what we ran before. It's just the terminology's different and the routes are different. Small things have changed. We just have to learn those little things and get used to each other in the offense.
At Bowling Green (McCall's former school), they ran their quarterbacks quite a bit. Do you expect to be on the move a lot more this fall?
CB: Coach McCall's all about plays. He's had Josh Harris, who was a good runner and he ran with him. And he had Omar Jacobs, who was a great passer and he threw the ball a lot with him. We'll see what he thinks of me, and we'll find out when the season starts.
What do you think of yourself as a runner?
CB: I think I can run. I like running. I'd rather be back there throwing the ball, but I enjoy running, too. If I can pick up 5-10 yards on a run, I'll be happy to get ready for the next play.
This is your third coordinator in four years. How does Mick compare, personality-wise, with Garrick McGee and Mike Dunbar?
CB: It's been interesting. You start to get comfortable with an OC and then you have a new one the next year. It's a little tough to adjust. Coach McCall has done a great job making us feel comfortable with the offense and with him. He's got a real live personality. He's one of those guys who's happy-go-lucky and then he has the ability to really bear down and be a disciplinarian as well. We really enjoy being around him. It's been a lot of fun so far.
Has he incorporated plays that you guys ran in the past?
CB: There's a lot of both. We have a lot of plays we're running now that we haven't run before, and we have a lot of plays that are very similar to plays that we've run before, maybe details that are a little different. That's what we're trying to get used to. It's going to be a little different, but we're still a spread offense. We're still doing the same things that we were recruited here to do. It should be a smooth transition.
Who has had the toughest adjustment?
CB: I'd like to say the quarterback (laughs). I'm sure the receivers would say the receivers and the running backs would say the running backs. It's a lot to learn, it's a lot to digest, but we're all smart kids at Northwestern. We're going to figure it out.
CB: I think we've got the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. Top to bottom, we have a lot of guys that can make plays, both running routes and making plays after the catch. I'm really excited. We've got speed guys, we've got possession guys, but everybody in our receiving corps can make plays. The four guys that are looking like the frontrunners to get most of the playing time -- Eric, Ross, (Andrew) Brewer and Rasheed (Ward) -- are really doing a good job this summer. I'm excited. It makes my job that much easier when I've got those guys around me.
Andrew has only caught one pass in college, but he's a guy that creates a lot of excitement with his speed as a former quarterback. What does he bring to that group?
CB: The biggest thing about him is he's bigger than anybody on the perimeter and he's faster than anybody inside. He's a mismatch for us inside. I don't know how defenses are going to be able to defend him. I'm just excited to be able to throw him the ball, see him juke a corner or run past a linebacker. We're all excited to see what he can do in game situations. He's had this amount of time at receiver under his belt, and he's picked up the route-running a lot. He really knows what he's doing as a receiver.
When you look at your season last year, did it mirror the team's?
CB: Last year was, obviously, a very up-and-down season for us and, personally, I felt it was kind of the same way. The main focus for me to stay more consistent is to take care of the football and really not take as many shots. In a lot of games last year, I was trying to do too much. Coach McCall has really pounded it into my head that we can compete with anybody. I don't have to make the spectacular play, just the smart one.
Pat Fitzgerald has talked about sometimes the best throw is in the fourth row. Is that hard for you because you want to make plays?
CB: A couple years ago, we were a little overmatched against some of these teams. I've just got to realize that our team is so stacked on the perimeter, there's so many guys that can make big plays after they catch it, so a 2-yard pass might turn into a 50-yard gain, whereas a 50-yard pass is pretty hard to complete.
Most of the concerns with your offense are about the line, wh
ich loses three starters. What have you seen from that group so far?
CB: I'm really excited about our additions to the offensive line. Keegan Kennedy's moved over from defensive tackle to offensive guard. He's been looking really good. I'm really excited about his progress. Ben Burkett, who was injured last year and redshirted, he's looking really good, too. And then we added Al Netter over at left tackle. It's a process to get these guys to mesh, but Coach (Bret) Ingalls is doing a good job so far. I expected improvement from last year. With Ben, Keegan and Al, as soon as they can come together and mesh, they're going to do a great job protecting me and opening up holes.
Do you take on an even greater leadership role as a senior quarterback?
CB: As a senior, you do feel a bit of a sense of entitlement just because you've been here so long. We've got so many seniors now. It's pretty easy to get those guys to help us out with the leadership. When you get older and you've been on the field, people really look up to you. We have a lot of young guys who can help us this year, so it's definitely made it easier having more seniors.
What have you sensed from running back Tyrell Sutton after an injury-plagued 2007 season?
CB: He feels a bit of a sense of urgency just because it's his last year. These last couple of years have been tough for him because of injuries. You can expect for him to be back and be stronger than ever. I'm excited to see what he can do on the field. It was such a layoff from being actually healthy. Now we've got him healthy and, hopefully, we can keep him that way. If he can stay healthy, I think he's the best running back in the Big Ten.